Statement from Leeds AFN re: Free Tommy march on 7th July 2018


Leeds, UK, 13th June 2018 – Leeds Anti-Fascist Network is calling for a mass public mobilisation to directly oppose supporters of Tommy Robinson on the 7th July, when they plan to return to Leeds to protest at the courthouse and march through the city centre. A Leeds AFN spokesperson said, “Tommy Robinson’s supporters demonstrated on the 1st of June that they were determined to provoke unrest and religious and racial hatred in our city. Our community must come together to stand against a mass racist protest by what is essentially a resurgent EDL. The arson attacks against a gurdwara and a mosque in Beeston just days following the recent march show just how urgent this is.”

On the 1st June around 400 people descended on Leeds in support of Tommy Robinson following his recall to prison for breaking the conditions of his suspended sentence. While assembled under the guise of protection of free speech and opposition to grooming gangs (those of a narrow racial/religious demographic) the march was overtly racist and Islamophobic, and in spite of the lack of any organised direct opposition, nonetheless aggressive and violent in its conduct. It was in all but name, a spontaneous resurgence of the EDL, the violent far-right street group Tommy formed in 2009. In the days following the demonstration, a mosque and a gurdwara in Beeston, south of the city centre, were subject to arson attacks, and prominent racist graffiti appeared across Leeds.

The threat this street movement poses is much the same as its previous incarnations – it can only grow if unchallenged, it emboldens individuals to act on their prejudices in social lives, at work and in the street. A government already tacking hard to the right in both economic and social policy will only feel encouraged to go further. If you look behind the fig leaf of co-opted language from the left, libertarian and feminist movements, the same old reactionary, racist, homophobic and misogynistic currents persist. We cannot allow this movement to grow, and they must not be allowed to parade their hatred through the streets of Leeds – so we’re calling on our communities to come out in number on the 7th July in Leeds to oppose the Free Tommy demonstration.

Leeds Anti-Fascist Network is a group of people working together to create stronger anti-racist communities in Leeds. We aim to organise in our local areas of Leeds to build a network capable of confronting far-right and racist activity, based around information and skill sharing events. By building a strong network we aim to stop them from taking our streets. We regularly meet up in different areas of Leeds – so if you want us to help organise something in your area get in touch.

Recently there has been increased far-right activity and mobilisations in Leeds and around the country – we want our communities to feel safe for all, the far-right and the government want to divide us based on our differences. We believe that job insecurity, bad housing, cuts to public services are policies to ensure the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We have to unite against this and the racist lies that would pit us against one another.

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Isn’t this different to the EDL?
The marches are largely not being held under the ‘EDL’ banner – although a recent one in York was. The EDL proper is now a relatively small concern on the far-right but the same currents that drove it have returned it to our streets once more.

Aren’t you supporting state incarceration of activists?
We are not cheerleaders for the state or the prison system, and believe empowered people and communities will ultimately overcome fascist threats better than the penal system ever will. Tommy’s recall for breach of the conditions of his suspended sentence have been deliberately misconstrued as a rush to miscarried justice, but was ultimately routine for the justice system. We believe Tommy’s martyrdom was largely choreographed – he was well aware of his conditions and broadcast his actions publicly on Facebook.

What about freedom of speech?
We don’t believe that hate speech, speech which advocates for the denial of liberty for specific minorities or oppressed groups, can really be considered ‘free’. Tommy aside, the rallies in support of him have consisted largely of hate speech – chants of “fuck Islam”, “Allah is a paedo”, and placards decrying the “rape of whites.” Perversely, Tommy’s intervention may have damaged the credibility of the proceedings and handed the defence ammunition to move for a mistrial.

Is it fair to criticise Islam?
As with Christianity and Christians, we believe it’s dangerous to conflate critique of Islam as a religion, with the demonization of Muslims as people. A religion – an idea – cannot be victimised, and it is right to look at religion critically. However, since the its inception the EDL, along with Tommy Robinson, and various associated movements across the right have used criticism of religion as a thin veil for their anti-Muslim hate speech. Instances of extreme adherence to the Christian faith, however, go undiscussed by these groups, because of the associated cultures and ethnicities.

Aren’t there valid feminist critiques of Islam?
There are valid feminist critiques of all organised religion – the world views and power structures involved are often toxic and patriarchal, preoccupied with policing and subjugating women. As with the free speech and anti-religious arguments, issues such as FGM, honour-based violence, and liberty for women at large, are being weaponised by the far-right. It’s disingenuous at best, when the narrative is so often simply one of saving “our women.” The Free Tommy march in Leeds on the 1st of June this year was majority white male by a massive margin, and on that basis alone it’s hard to take seriously the women’s rights angle. Conservative and reactionary politics are inherently hostile to feminism, no matter how much the right tries to cloak itself in an increasingly socially liberal world.

Is it racist to stand against grooming gangs and paedophiles?
Of course it’s not – unfortunately in spite of the numerous instances of sexual abuse on the right and amongst high-profile white offenders, the Asian grooming gang trope has become an emotive and effective mobilisation tool for the far-right. Naturally we saw no outcry from the ranks of the EDL, Britain First, et al when the Yew Tree revelations came to light as there’s no mileage in that for them. Everyone should be as disgusted by grooming gangs as they are Saville, and indeed all sexual abusers. Tommy Robinson’s decision to cast light only on Asian abusers is racist.

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